Former Mountain West power BYU left the league to gain riches and exposure that the league could not match by taking the independent route, plus they did not want to be left behind when Utah joined the Pac-12. Since BYU became an independent, the school has achieved everything they wanted to, except be truly relevant on the national scene.
BYU has struggled to be ranked in the top 25, and there has been enormous pressure by the fan base to get to a BCS bowl game. It does not help when athletic director Tom Holmoe feels the team can do that, and possibly more.
However, being a football independent, not named Notre Dame, it is nearly impossible to earn a BCS bid. BYU does not even get the luxury of earning a bid by being the highest rated non-BCS team, because one requirement is to be part of a conference and win said league. The only way to be guaranteed a spot is by being No. 2 in the final BCS rankings, and that would take some extra ordinary circumstances to get done.
With the looming playoff that expands to four teams BYU is still not guaranteed anything since they are still not part of a league, and get no special circumstances.
UNLV athletic director Jim Livengood feels that BYU needs to join a conference, and he would love to have them back in the Mountain West:
"I still believe at some point in time BYU has to do something, and they'll really have to do something prior to 2014," Livengood said. "It doesn't have to be this year, but ... right now there's not an access point for them."
Livengood said BYU isn't tipping off its intentions, but he left no doubt he would love to see the Cougars back in the Mountain West.
"I hope so," Livengood said. "It's great competition in our conference. They make us better."
Getting BYU back to the Mountain West is not that simple. There is the allure of joining the best non-power league which could ensure a spot in a big money bowl by winning the league. However, there is the money issue where BYU rakes in about $5 millon or so per year, and the Mountain West can not match that at this point. Also BYU cares about the ESPN exposure they are currently getting, and scheduling high profile games against Notre Dame, Texas, Wisconsin and others.
Commissioner Craig Thompson commented on BYU's status by saying they have no indication of abandoning their football independence or the West Coast Conference. BYU will likely never join a conference for football unless they are forced to. Their main goal is to gain exposure and more money, but the Mountain West currently can not match what BYU currently has with their ESPN contract.
However, the only league that BYU could possibly join is the Mountain West, because the Pac-12 wants nothing to do with BYU and the Big 12 has given up on BYU. The only option left is the Mountain West, so that will likely be their landing spot, if they ever need to find one.